More than 8 million acres of China's farmland are too polluted with heavy metals and other chemicals to use for growing food, a Cabinet official said yesterday—that's about 2% of China's 337 million acres of arable land. The threat from pollution to China's food supply has been overshadowed by public alarm at smog and water contamination but is gaining attention following scandals over tainted rice and other crops. The explosive growth of Chinese industry, overuse of farm chemicals, and lax environmental enforcement have left swathes of the countryside tainted by lead, cadmium, pesticides, and other toxins.
The government triggered complaints in February when it refused to release results of a nationwide survey of soil pollution, declaring them a state secret. But the official yesterday revealed that investigations by the Ministry of Environmental Protection have found "moderate to severe pollution" on 8.3 million acres. The official said the government is working on a long-range plan to reduce heavy metal pollution and clean up contaminated areas and expects to spend several billion dollars a year on the effort. He gave no details but scientists say one possible approach is to plant trees or other vegetation that will absorb heavy metals from the soil but will not be consumed by humans. (Read more China stories.)